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Sierra Club releases endorsed candidates list focused on environmental activism

Alan Parry (center), Political Chair of the NC Sierra Club, delivers a welcoming speech at the organization's PAC Fundraiser on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 in Chapel Hill. Blake Fleming (left), lead organizer of the NC Sierra Club, and Rep. Robert Reives II (right), NC House member, also spoke at the event.

The Orange-Chatham Group of the North Carolina Sierra Club recently released its 2019 candidate endorsement list, placing a special emphasis on candidates who value environmental policy and climate change mitigation.

The club is confident the endorsed candidates are best suited to combat climate change and fulfill local government’s responsibility to address the issue within the community.

The Sierra Club identified the climate crisis as "the defining issue of our time," and said in a press release that its candidates for local government have responded to this reality by "prioritizing livability, bus rapid transit and bike-pedestrian projects" in their platforms. 

Allie Omens, president of UNC’s Environmental Honors Fraternity Epsilon Eta, worries candidates are making promises that will go unfulfilled. 

“Election time creates a lot of talk, and it is sometimes hard to tell how much of these words are going to be converted into action,” she said. 

However, she calls the endorsements “a step in the right direction,” and hopes to see policies that center around the expansion of alternative energy sources in Chapel Hill, the development of a commuter rail and the expansion of local composting infrastructure and waste prevention practices.

Alan Parry, political chair of N.C. Sierra Club, said endorsed candidates in Chapel Hill and Carrboro were chosen because of their proven commitment to leadership and advocacy when it comes to combating climate change.  

"We are lucky to live in an area where no serious candidate is debating whether human-caused climate change is real or whether we should, at some level, be doing something about it," Parry said. "But there's a difference between acknowledging the problem and prioritizing the solutions.”

Parry said endorsed candidates were chosen because they recognize both the importance of action at the local level and the interconnectedness that exists between the climate crisis, environmental justice and other key economic and social issues.

The climate change movement has seen a recent wave of activism. In September, more than 6 million people took to the streets in another round of protests in towns and cities across the globe. Youth have played a notably active role in the fight for change, and Greta Thunberg, a teenage environmental activist from Sweden, has become known globally as a face for the movement.

Tai Huynh, a UNC senior and an endorsed candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council, recognizes that younger citizens play a critical role in enacting change. 

“With the youth climate strikes around the world, I think we are beginning to see some real change," Huynh said. "I’m passionate about this issue because, quite frankly, I want a planet to live on 30 to 50 years from now, and I sure want a planet for my kids to grow up on. I think the youth are beginning to realize that it’s gonna be on us to tackle this crisis.” 

Huynh said his platform specifically addresses the need for a more advanced, multi-modal transit system in Chapel Hill, with the hopes of promoting a more connected community, both internally and regionally. He also plans to address the issue of emergency preparedness and resilience, outlining the need for a more advanced stormwater management system.

The club endorsed three Carrboro candidates: incumbent Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Board of Aldermen members Sammy Slade and Damon Seils.

Five Chapel Hill candidates were also endorsed: incumbent Mayor Pam Hemminger, Town Council incumbent Michael Parker and candidates Sue Hunter, Amy Ryan and Tai Huynh. If one of the last three wins, it will be their first time serving on the council.

Early voting for Orange County's local elections runs from Oct. 16 to Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5. The deadline to register to vote in the local elections is Oct. 11. For early voting schedules and more Election Day information, you can visit the board of election's website.

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